MS Awareness Week: Recognizing Depression in Multiple Sclerosis Patients
Since 2003, in March, we observe National MS Education and Awareness Month. This month marks a nationwide effort to raise public awareness of multiple sclerosis, focusing on helping people understand the scope of this chronic disease and assisting MS patients in making educated decisions about their healthcare.
MS Awareness Week is held annually as part of MS Awareness Month. This year, the annual observance occurs on March 13-19, 2023.
This year’s theme is “My MS Moment,” where patients are encouraged to share their life stories with MS. While most of us see the physical challenges this disease poses for those living with it, few understand the emotional toll from the condition and how it can affect the mental health of patients.
Watch the Video: MS Awareness Week: Recognizing Depression in Multiple Sclerosis Patients
Depression in Multiple Sclerosis
MS affects nearly one million people in the U.S. and carries a significant psychiatric burden. Although depression is the most common psychiatric manifestation, it remains underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Depression is a severe medical condition that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. It can cause sadness and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed and can significantly impact your daily routine, interfering with your relationships and work.
MS patients are more likely to experience severe depression than the general population or patients with other medical conditions. Research shows that 50% of MS patients display significant depressive symptoms (clinical depression). Likewise, depressive disorders affect approximately 27% of pediatric demyelinating disease patients.
Depression can occur at any point during the disease, and it’s vital to understand that the condition does not indicate a weak character and is not something shameful.
Signs of Depression in MS Patients
If you think you may be depressed, please speak to your doctor as soon as possible, to start receiving the help you need.
Depression is not something you can prevent or overcome with determination, and you should never try to hide it or feel embarrassed about what you are going through.
Symptoms of clinical depression last between two weeks and several months and include:
- Generally depressed mood
- Feeling hopelessness and despair
- Reduced or lack of interest or pleasure in most activities
- Changes in sleeping patterns, such as insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
- Changes in eating habits with noticeable weight loss or gain
- Feeling restless
- Fatigue, decreased energy levels, or feeling sluggish
- Feelings or worthlessness
- Excessive or unwarranted feelings of guilt
- Difficulty thinking clearly or indecisiveness
- Having trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Treatment Options and Other Resources
Some symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, overlap with those of depression, making it challenging to identify what is causing them.
Therefore, if you think you may have depression, the best thing to do is to speak to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor will do a complete assessment and develop a depression management strategy that may include the following:
- Psychotherapy or group therapy
- Supplements – some herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort can be effective in treating mild depression
Aside from the depression management strategy provided by your doctor, there are more ways for you to cope and prevent more severe forms of depression, including:
- Daily physical activity
- Reducing stress levels in your life
- Practice breathing techniques and medication to help manage stress
- Stay socially active. Call friends, spend time with your family, and join support groups
- Acknowledge your feelings, don’t suppress them
- Don’t turn to addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs to cope with your feelings
- Keep open communication with your healthcare team
While it’s impossible to prevent depression, it’s important to know you are not alone. Support is available, and depression is treatable. So please reach out to your support team if you are struggling with depression.